Public Worship Affects Private Worship

In my last post, I argued that we reap in public what we sow in private. In other words, our private practices and pursuits have implications on our public life. This is especially true in our relationship with Jesus. If we never spend time cultivating the relationship in private, there will be no speaking of him in public because there will be no well to draw from. If we do not engage in private prayer, we will certainly not enjoy public prayer. If the Word of God is not enjoyed in private, it is doubtful that we will exult in the Word as it is preached.

To that end, private worship affects public worship. What we do in private fuels what we do in public. But the reverse is also true. Public worship affects private worship.

In the last post, we considered how private worship affects public worship from Psalm 40 (You can refresh here).  This time, let’s look at a few implications that Psalm 40 has on how public worship affects private worship.

  • The Psalm is written down for us. We are reading of David’s experience with the Lord and are supposed to be encouraged by it. David wrote that we might find hope in the God who inclined his ear to him, heard his cry, drew him out of a pit, put his feet on a rock, and gave him a new song (Ps 40:1-2). David’s public worship is supposed to encourage your private worship even as you quietly read the Psalm.

  • The “new song” of praise to God leads others to put their trust in the Lord (Ps 40:3). The new song, sung for all to hear, leads others to faith. What greater earthly benefit can there be to our worship than the salvation of souls!

  • The wondrous deeds and thoughts of the Lord have been multiplied towards us in Christ. This leads to public proclamation (Ps 40:5) that others may benefit from knowing the work of God. The reason you tell someone about a glory you have seen is for their delight to increase. Telling the wondrous deeds of the Lord fuels worship when we are no longer gathered together.

Our souls need fuel for worship. The reason is that we don't naturally wake up with hearts oriented toward the glory of God. Instead, we wake up with hearts oriented toward ourselves. We know what we want. We think we know what we need. We spend most of our days toiling after both. But, when we come to the Bible, we cannot read much of the New Testament without bumping into the “one another” phrases. We’re called to love, exhort, forgive, sing over, bear with, serve, and encourage one another.

Public worship is one of the ways that we live out the “one another’s” of the Christian life. To be sure, God is worthy of all of our worship and our worship is for him. But, if I purchase flowers for my wife, who benefits? Well, she does, for sure, but so does everyone who enters the house. We all smell the aroma and we all get to enjoy the beauty. Worship is for God, but we all benefit from the aroma.

Our faith is personal, but it was never meant to be private. O, how we need to remember this when we gather together. Why? Because your engagement in corporate worship was never meant to only be an expression of your personal delight in God; your worship is also designed to help the church (and non-christians) believe the gospel. Your worship has horizontal implications. By way of encouragement, engage in worship when we gather together. Sing with all your might. Lift your hands. Bow your knees. Worship - because God is worthy, and because your public worship fuels and affects not only your private worship, but the private worship of all who gather with you.  

Private Worship Affects Public Worship

Have you ever heard someone say, “I want to write a book”? Or, “I want to learn to play piano.” Or, “I want to learn Spanish.” Or, “I want to get in shape”? When I hear statements like that, my usual response is, “You mean, you want to have written a book, or have learned to play piano, or be in shape…because no one wants to run scales until you hear them in your sleep. No one wants to do pushups.” We want the reward without the investment. We want to reap, but we don’t want to sow.

A general life principle is that we reap in public what we sow in private. That is, the practices we spend time cultivating in private often have public implications. For example, someone who spends hours watching movies in private will probably be the guy at the party quoting the movie to his friends (who mostly won’t get his jokes).

As it goes with movie watching, so it goes with Scripture memory, private prayer, Bible reading, singing, and all of the biblically prescribed postures of worship. If you never cultivate a heart for God in private by spending time in his Word then you will probably have difficulty valuing a sermon preached on the weekend. If you never cultivate a heart that responds to God in worship on Wednesday morning then what we do on Sundays will mostly seem foreign to you. Think about it like this: at most, we spend 2 hours per week in gathered worship. That’s about 1% of our week. It’s hard to believe that 1% of our week will be sufficient to shape the other 99%.

J.C. Ryle once wrote how most people in public worship looked to be “taking up a fresh thing.” What an indictment! The people of God gather to hear his Word preached, sing his praise, encourage the other believers, and give a brilliant testimony to the watching world, and yet, we look to be attempting it for the first time. I’m convinced that one of the reasons that my flame for God is small is that I don’t spend the time during the week stoking the coals.

The Bible is full of examples of this pattern of private action affecting public action. Take Psalm 40:1-3:

“I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.”

A few things worth noting in this Psalm that fuel private worship:

  • The God of the universe hears and listens to us in Christ Jesus

  • The Lord responds by rescuing us “from the pit of destruction.” Our deliverance has come through the person of Jesus.

  • The Lord puts a new song in of praise to God in our mouths. The Christian has been given a song that serves the mission. The song is the means by which many see the glory of God and respond in faith.

For these things to fuel our relationship with God, and our worship of him, we must spend time reflecting on them. We must call to mind his deliverance. We must remember that we were all in the pit of destruction before he came to our help. We must remember that the new song serves the mission. Then, in private, we must respond in worship. We must sow.

Private worship affects public worship. But, the reverse is also true: Public worship also affects and informs private worship. That’s part 2...

Worship is an end.

O, how often do we focus on the form of worship and not the essence: we focus on the outward when God looks at the heart. We, far too often, think of worship as a means of accomplishing some other (good) end. John Piper is helpful with this warning and exhortation:

“…focusing on the essence of worship as satisfaction in God is that it protects the primacy of worship by forcing us to come to terms with the fact that worship is an end in itself.

If the inward essence of worship is satisfaction in God, then worship can’t be a means to anything else. You simply can’t say to God, I want to be satisfied in You so that I can have something else. Because that would mean that you are not really satisfied in God but in something else. And that would dishonor God, not worship him.

But in fact for thousands of people and pastors, I fear, the event of ‘worship’ on Sunday morning is conceived of as a means to accomplish something other than worship. We ‘worship’ to raise money; we ‘worship’ to attract crowds; we ‘worship’ to heal human hurts; we ‘worship’ to recruit workers; we ‘worship’ to improve church morale. We ‘worship’ to give talented musicians an opportunity to fulfill their calling; we ‘worship’ to teach our children the way of righteousness; we ‘worship’ to help marriages stay together; we ‘worship’ to evangelize the lost among us; we ‘worship’ to motivate people for service projects; we ‘worship’ to give our churches a family feeling, and so forth.

In all of this we bear witness that we are confused about what true worship is. Genuine affections for God are an end in themselves. I cannot say to my wife, ‘I feel a strong delight in you so that you will make me a nice meal.’ That is not the way delight works. It terminates on her. It does not have a nice meal in view. I cannot say to my son, ‘I love playing ball with you so that you will cut the grass.’ If my heart really delights in playing ball with him, that delight cannot be performed as a means to getting him to do something.

I am not denying that authentic worship may have a hundred good effects on the life of the church. It will – just as true affection in marriage makes everything better. My point is that to the degree that we ‘do worship’ for these reasons, to that degree it ceases to be worship. Keeping satisfaction in God at the center guards us from that tragedy.

Therefore…focus on the essence of worship, not on the form."  

- John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, p.265-66.

In our private and public worship, let’s continue to ask God to increase our satisfaction and delight in Him. Let’s ask God to help our worship terminate on Him, for his sake, and not for the sake of anything we could receive from his hand.

"Find in me thine all in all?"

One of the beauties of corporate worship is that it gives us a means to encourage one another to believe the gospel. We gather together to help each other believe. D.A. Carson has said that one of the primary functions of corporate worship is edification. Mutual edification is the one thing we don’t receive when the church is scattered. During the week, we have access, through the Holy Spirit, to every rich grace that God provides through Christ except each other. But, what happens if we all arrive on the weekend with a sense of disillusionment about life, worship, and God?

You enter the worship gathering, and I (or any other worship leader) leads you to sing this lyric:

“I hear the Savior say, ‘Thy strength indeed is small.
Child of weakness watch and pray, find in me thine all in all.'”

And we all ask, “Is he really our all in all?” That statement, if true, affects everything between what we live for to what we hope in - it affects everything. If Jesus is our ‘all in all,’ then that truth is enough to lift us out of our spiritual fog. It’s enough to lead us into a rich time of worship where we sing from the heart to God and each other, “Find in him, believer and non-Christian, your everything. Your satisfaction, hope, and joy."

So, we ask, "Is he really all we need? What do we mean by that? Can we really find everything we need in Jesus” Jesus says we can. Here’s a quick overview of how he does that in the book of John:

“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’” - John 6:35

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” - John 8:12

“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” - John 10:9

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep…” - John 10:11, 14-15

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.’” - John 11:25-26

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” - John 14:6

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser…” - John 15:1

This is the Jesus of the Bible. He is our bread, light, access to God, loving and tender Shepherd, resurrection and life, way, truth, and life, and the true vine from which all spiritual fruit is born (including the very joy that Jesus has in God). Let me encourage you to read back over the seven “I AM” statements in John and ask, “How do these statements affect and inform my response of worship when we gather?”

When you show up for worship this weekend, ask God to stir your heart to love him. No matter if you show up ready to worship with affection for Jesus, or if you show up with indifference, what we all need to remember is that Jesus is all we need. Then, respond in worship.  

This is our story.

One of our Summit Worship plumb lines is: "The depth of your theology affects the height of your worship.” A less wordy version is, “Knowing things helps you appreciate things.” This may sound like some of your Grandpa’s advice, but I think it’s true. When I go to a hockey game with Candace, I’m constantly explaining the rules. Why? Her enjoyment of the game is dependent upon her knowledge of the game.  

A few years ago (2011), Bryan Chapell preached a message entitled “Gathering to Rehearse” at a WorshipGod Conference in Maryland. In essence, Chapell’s message was a condensed version of his book “Christ-Centered Worship,” which was published in 2009. One of the most helpful parts of the book (and the message) was Chapell’s treatment of liturgy for gathered worship. In fact, you can find a quick summary and review of the book here. 

Chapell says that the shape of our service and patterns of worship communicate a message. I think he’s right.  Structure sends a message. So, is there a shape to a worship service that serves the message? That’s the question. Again, Chapell is helpful because he gives biblical categories. He suggests that the “message shapes the container.” What he means is that the content itself determines the order of delivery. Chapell suggests the following “liturgical categories,”: 

  • Adoration
  • Confession
  • Assurance of Pardon
  • Thanksgiving
  • Petition
  • Instruction
  • Charge and Blessing

I won’t expand all of the categories in this post, but want to draw your attention to the shape. These categories are the shape of Isaiah 6:1-9, Exodus 3, Ephesians 2. A sight of the Glory of God leads to a confession of sin. Confession and repentance bring the assurance of pardon in Christ. A heart that knows full forgiveness bears the fruit of thankful lips, and on the liturgy goes. 

This order is powerful because it is a rehearsal of the gospel message. It is your testimony. To be a Christian, every one of us saw the glory of God, and saw God as overwhelmingly beautiful. In view of his holiness, we said with Isaiah, “Woe is me, for I am ruined.” In our confession of sin came the promise of forgiveness (2 Cor. 5:21, Rom. 10:10-13). Assured of God’s promise to save us and seal us for redemption, our hearts respond in thanksgiving. And so the “liturgy” moves. This is our story. 

In sharing this brief overview, my aim is to invite you to rehearse the gospel story when we gather together. As we rehearse the gospel story together, take joy in the God who showed you his glory in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6), heard your prayer of repentance, gave Christ as a gift of grace, takes delight in your worship, speaks through his very Word, blesses and sends us out with his very presence. 

This is our story and song.